Hemlock or Cow Parsley? Think you know? Watch this video and take some time to see if you can tell the difference. In this video I reveal the answer, along with numerous photos to illustrate the plants.
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But first I want to make a few things very clear to you, and also about my own way of teaching the edible weeds that surround us…
Firstly, for me foraging is not about being afraid of the nature or the plant kingdom but it is about being respectful. That being said the old forager adage of “When In Doubt, Leave It Out” is not just some pretty statement… it is a fundamental rule, and will save you from coming to harm, and maybe even death!
Many people fear the wild, yet it is not the wild that is at fault, but ourselves!
Plant identification using the internet or books, can be a very rocky path. We live in an information culture, and as a result, and because we all have egos often information is spread around that is incorrect.
Unfortunately sometimes people just want to prove how clever they are, and in their rush to “be right”, often can trip up and take you down the rabbit whole of false information.
Using the internet for plant identification is only JUST THE START of the journey. When you think you have identified a plant yourself or someone has identified one for you in some online group or forum. Do not take it at first hand! Go and get a wild flower identification book, and head on out into nature, and go find the plant.
Botany can only take us so far. For pattern identification (which is your first port of call) and is what wild flower ID books are, it is invaluable, but then other identification factors come into play that are as equally important and quite simply cannot be learnt from books or the internet.
Because we have been foragers for tens of thousands of years, way before Linneaus came up with his classification system or botany or science or even foraging as a word was invented, we had other ways of knowing the world. Those ways are how indigenous cultures got to know plants.
But one of the key ways these cultures learnt plants was orally from the older members of the ‘band’ or ‘tribe’. In our culture that would have been by being an apprentice to someone who knew their subject deeply, and could guide the newcomer.
The ancient romans and greeks said there are three ways to learn a subject. The first way is by personal experience; but it is the most dangerous way, especially when learning plants!
The second way; and the best way, the middle way, was to have a guide or mentor to teach you. And the third way; and the poorest way, was via books and information…
Our modern culture gives high praise to the information way, and as is pretty self evident, we moved from an industrial culture, to an information culture only very recently.
So when it comes to learning plants, there is no better way than to learn directly from someone else.
Learning plants via books and the internet can only take you so far, then you have to get off your screens, and step out into the natural world… it’s not as scary as you think.
Because the video above covers hemlock and cow parsley both members of the Apeacea family formerly know as the Umbelliferae family or the Carrot/Celery family… I want to make something VERY clear…
…This is NOT a plant family for beginners, and it is best left alone until you have gained more experience. But that will come with time as you slowly progress along your own plant journey.
Also plants vary in how they appear not only in the different locations around the country, but also in the illustrated and photo wild flower books… this is why getting your head around a proper Wild Flower Key, rather than photo or illustration books is the better way. One flower key that is highly recommended is by Francis Rose, simply called The Wild Flower Key.
The problem with botanical ID is that it gives us only a piece of the puzzle when learning a plant. One of the quickest and most effective ways to differentiate between hemlock and cow parsley is by smell.
Smell is vital, and I personally believe that every single plant has a unique smell. This belief does not come from some hippy-trippy woowoo understanding of the world, but from my experience travelling overseas and meeting indigenous plantwalkers.
In our modern, techno-civilisation we often exist in our heads, cutting ourselves off from our senses. And as I say on all my foraging courses, in order to be an effective forager or plantwalker you need to “Get Out of Your Head & Come To Your Senses”.
The easiest way to do this is to Pick, Crush & Sniff a plant every day. Doing so wakes up our senses, and is known as Organoleptic Learning… using all our senses, not just our eyes. It is a very powerful way to learn plants.
But Organoleptic Learning or as I call it Sensory Attention has other far deeper outcomes, something I won’t go into in this video, there’s just not enough time.
The purpose of doing this video was to show people just how easy it is to NOT know a plant, simply by using the eyes, and that to fully meet a plant, we must spend time with that plant in its habitat and in context as to where it grows and the relationship that it has with the rest of creation.
I hope you start moving away from gaining plant knowledge via your head, and start spending more and more time outside meeting plants, sitting with plants, and observing them through their growth cycle and the various seasons.
It’s an empowering and enlivening journey walking the Green Path, as my beloved plant mentor Frank Cook called it… but you have to do it. You have to get off the touchline of life, get off your screens and out of the computer and enter the wild… I hope you enjoy the video.